Saturday, October 24, 2009
Hadrian and the Triumph of Rome
Acclaimed author Anthony Everitt, whose Augustus was praised by the Philadelphia Inquirer as “a narrative of sustained drama and skillful analysis,” is the rare writer whose work both informs and enthralls. In Hadrian and the Triumph of Rome–the first major account of the emperor in nearly a century–Everitt presents a compelling, richly researched biography of the man whom he calls arguably “the most successful of Rome’s rulers.”
Born in A.D. 76, Hadrian lived through and ruled during a tempestuous era, a time when the Colosseum was opened to the public and Pompeii was buried under a mountain of lava and ash. Everitt vividly recounts Hadrian’s thrilling life, in which the emperor brings a century of disorder and costly warfare to a peaceful conclusion while demonstrating how a monarchy can be compatible with good governance. Hadrian was brave and astute–despite his sometimes prickly demeanor–as well as an accomplished huntsman, poet, and student of philosophy.
What distinguished Hadrian’s rule, according to Everitt, were two insights that inevitably ensured the empire’s long and prosperous future: He ended Rome’s territorial expansion, which had become strategically and economically untenable, by fortifying her boundaries (the many famed Walls of Hadrian), and he effectively “Hellenized” Rome by anointing Athens the empire’s cultural center, thereby making Greek learning and art vastly more prominent in Roman life.
With unprecedented detail, Everitt illuminates Hadrian’s private life, including his marriage to Sabina–a loveless, frequently unhappy bond that bore no heirs–and his enduring yet doomed relationship with the true love of his life, Antinous, a beautiful young Bithynian man. Everitt also covers Hadrian’s war against the Jews, which planted the seeds of present-day discord in the Middle East.
Despite his tremendous legacy–including a virtual “marble biography” of still-standing structures–Hadrian is considered one of Rome’s more enigmatic emperors. But making splendid use of recently discovered archaeological materials and his own exhaustive research, Everitt sheds new light on one of the most important figures of the ancient world.